I asked Gwen to compile some of the great comments she’s been posting this week into this little essay for your enjoyment. However,  this should be not be seen as an endorsement of her ideas. I’m also not saying she’s wrong. I believe such things are always up the reader. This is just one view. What do you think?

“The pop psychology literature calls it the impostor phenomenon. The subliminal tape that plays endlessly in Don’s head goes like this:

I don’t belong here…I’m clever and hard–working enough to have faked them out all these years and they all think I’m great but I know better…and one of these days they’re going to catch on…they’ll ask the right question and find out that I really don’t understand…and then…and then….

The tape recycles at this point, because the consequences of them (teachers, classmates, friends, parents,…) figuring out that you are a fraud are too awful to contemplate.” — Felder, Richard, “Impostors Everywhere.” Chem. Engr. Education, 22(4), 168-169 (Fall 1988).

When Dr. Klein went to find Captain Spectacular and bring him to Valhalla, he was a shattered wreck, sitting in the dark, utterly without faith in himself in any fashion or manner whatsoever. It had little or nothing to do with the loss of his mobility, though being crippled was a symptom of it, the cause was deeper. He explained it as being because he had driven Tom away, “driven everyone away”. Cap has never felt like a hero. Not really. He’s always felt like a betrayer, a fraud. He has a massive case — one might say a heroic case — of impostor syndrome, a real condition where someone does not feel they have truly earned or deserve what they have achieved or who and what they are, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. He feels that he got what Dr. Rocket should have received, just because they swapped the medal — his best friend in the world was shortchanged because of a mistake. He feels his great power isn’t deserved, that Dr. Rocket was the one who should have had it, and he is an impostor. Perhaps he should have had what Dr. Rocket had instead, but he didn’t get it. He got the wrong piece of cake.

Even Dr. Rocket knew it. When it happened, he knew he’d been betrayed. Cap was in the first flush of powers run amok, strength and eye beams blasting Jorbons left and right. But could he also have had his hearing cranked up at the same moment, and heard Dr. Rocket’s bitter whisper? I’ll bet he did, even if only subconsciously. This would help fuel his feelings of being an impostor. Cap knew that Dr. Rocket had never forgiven him for receiving the powers that should have been his. I believe Cap never forgave himself, either. The bitterness and jealousy robbed him of his best friend, and Cap blamed himself for it, because it was his insistence that young Laban wear the medal on that fateful day.

The Healer fixed his back, but he never felt he deserved that, either — he didn’t even yell “Bingo!” when he won the game over and over. He didn’t even notice that he’d won. While he could walk again, what had kept him sitting in the dark, pantsless, eyes empty, drinking, hadn’t been touched. It still hasn’t. He doesn’t feel like a hero. He never really did. The guys from Th3rd World convinced him to be one, and the Money Man convinced him to join a team, but he never really felt he had earned it. So while he’d punch a hole in a wall, because he was strong, he’d let others solve the PROBLEMS, because, in his mind, they were the REAL heroes. He was just a circus strongman with an undeserved title who kept disappointing the people he cared about.

He said that stuff about being the greatest superhero who ever lived with irony. He doesn’t believe it, down deep inside. He got his powers by cheating his best friend, and has always felt like a fraud…and now, he finally gets to stop, legitimately, because he’s retired. That’s why he went to Valhalla. It was a chance to stop.

Cap hasn’t felt like a hero in a long, long time, and Lumbering Jack just sort of put the cherry on top for him, made him stop and look at himself real close for far too long. He didn’t like what he saw, and he doesn’t really think anyone else should, either.

That’s probably why he doesn’t stop the tea-drinking hairpile that calls himself “Captain Spectacular 2″ from using his name in vain. He probably thinks that festering moron is a better hero than he ever was.

But now we a very odd situation, the self-named “greatest superhero of all time” sitting in front of a one-armed bandit, refusing flatly to be heroic. The building is falling down around his ears, his fiancee has just walked out on him, and still he refuses. This is not a gambling addiction. This is fear. This is denial. This is avoidant behavior, bordering on dissociative. He never wanted to be a hero, he didn’t want powers, he wanted to serve the gods of his people well and piously, and in trying to save his best friend from beatings and torture, all he succeeded in doing was rob him of his due. His friend is bitter and jealous of him as a result, and he has powers he hates, and feels insecure about having. He was convinced by the Money Man to be in a heroic team, but he couldn’t prevent the Money Man’s death at Soviet Sam’s hands. Other heroes have to deal with the “can’t be everywhere” burden. He has it too, combined with believing he never deserved to try.

What makes it even worse is that he has always believed that his own sidekick, Jerry is utterly powerless. It isn’t true, but he doesn’t know that. And now, Jerry is miraculously walking, proof that Jerry is more worthy than him. After all, he needed the intervention of the Healer, while Jerry didn’t.

Captain Spectacular neither feels like a Captain, nor very Spectacular. He feels like a faker, swept along by forces he has never been able to control, wearing someone else’s suit that makes him look more spectacular than he really is. That has caused him to drive away everyone he has ever cared about, including everyone he has ever married, including his son, and his best friend. As far as he knows, his son died before his eyes and all his supposed heroism couldn’t stop it. But his best friend came back to him, and he is determined not to let false heroism drive him away again.

The powers he stole from Laban made Laban hate him. They made Cap into a shallow jerk that drove away everyone he ever cared about. Finally, he retired, and tried to let it all go. He thought he’d found someone who could love him just for HIM…but in the end, she only wanted a hero after all. That’s why he had a moment of shock and hurt when Spy Gal gave him back the ring.  Not because she no longer wanted him, but because he realized why she had.  He wanted someone to love Wilbur, not Captain Spectacular, and she didn’t.  When he refused to be the hero, she couldn’t love him anymore, and that was okay. He didn’t love Captain Spectacular either.

Many of the comments have mentioned a gambling addiction.  I don’t believe it. If he had a gambling addiction, he would be playing a lot more bingo, and would be betting on it. He’d be calling bookies to bet on football games and horse races. He isn’t. He’d also be at the card tables, or playing dice — only an idiot thinks he can game a slot machine. Cards or dice, those you might have a “system” for, but slots are just mechanical. They just take your money like a vending machine. No — he isn’t a gambling addict. He’s a heroism-phobe. He’s thrown himself into the slots with all the escapist energy of a noob throwing himself into his first raid. If he had any feeling for computers, he’d be in World of Warcraft, or playing Bronies, or building things in Second Life.  Something nice and escapist.

The pivotal moment for Wilbur was his first act of heroism, when he convinced Laban to take the medal. He thought it would protect Laban, keep him from being beaten. He was willing to take the beating in Laban’s place, an act of heroism. But it went wrong — that was the day the Jorbons took them both, and subjected them to the Procedure. Because of this, Wilbur has learned to distrust his judgment when it comes to heroic acts. He leaves them up to others whenever he can, and avoids them when possible. And now, he is actively afraid to be heroic. It led to the death of his son, at the hands of a lunatic he rejected during a sidekick audition years earlier.

So what can fix this situation? Wilbur needs to learn that everyone has these feelings, that most of us at one time or another feels like a “fraud” or an “impostor”, and it isn’t a valid concern. “Fake it till you make it” is far more common than anyone ever realizes. Heroism isn’t something that happens because of powers, or Jorbon Procedures, or Voodoo rituals, or alien experiments. Heroism comes from a person or persons being in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. They don’t even have to succeed, they simply have to try. He was a hero for trying to save Laban from torture, a real, honest hero, even though it didn’t work, and he didn’t have a single super power.

All he has to have is a little faith in himself, and to give himself a little break. He’s better than he knows. And the people he thinks are better than him are far more human than he thinks.